By: Todd Beamon
Islamic State militants are reportedly within a mile of Baghdad despite battling Iraqi forces and U.S.-led airstrikes, and there is “immense fear among everybody,” the vicar of the only Anglican church in Iraq said Tuesday.
“We are at a crisis point,” Canon Andrew White, vicar of St George’s Church in Baghdad, told Sky News. “People know ISIS are coming nearer.”
The Islamic State is also known as ISIS.
White’s work is supported by the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, which said late Monday in a Facebook posting: “The Islamic State are now less than 2km away from entering Baghdad.”
“They said it could never happen, and now it almost has. Obama says he overestimated what the Iraqi army could do,” the posting said, referring to President Barack Obama.
“Well, you only need to be here a very short while to know they can do very very little,” the posting said.
He told Sky News that the U.S.-led airstrikes against ISIS are doing little more than killing civilians.
“People are being killed by the attacks of the coalition,” he said.
“This is horrendous,” he said about the Islamic State’s advance into Iraq’s capital city. “We have civilians being killed, yet [the Islamic State] are moving toward Baghdad.”
Renewed fighting has also occurred in such central Iraqi cities as Baquba and Ramadi, Sky News reports, as ISIS fighters appear to have advanced within 3 miles of Kobani, a critical border town in Syria, despite the airstrikes.
The reports come as the White House remains in damage-control mode after Obama told CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday that U.S. intelligence officials had underestimated the ISIS threat.
The suggestion angered congressional Republicans, leading Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, to charge that “this was not an intelligence community failure, but a failure by policymakers to confront the threat.”
Obama had said:
“Our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.” He was referring to James Clapper, director of national intelligence.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest sought to clarify Obama’s remarks, noting that he was not blaming anyone as the U.S. sought global cooperation in the airstrikes that seek to weaken ISIS strongholds in Syria and Iraq.
“That is not what the president’s intent was,” Earnest said Tuesday. “What the president was trying to make clear” was “how difficult it is to predict the will of security forces that are based in another country to fight.”
In his Sky News interview, White said of Baghdad: “I’ve never known the city like it is at the moment.”
“Streets which are usually choc-a-bloc with traffic, cars and people are almost empty. People are too fearful to even leave their homes.”
He said that his church most likely would be “very high up” on the Islamic State’s target list and that “I must be at the top of the list.”
White told Sky News that one Iraqi soldier told him that if he was confronted by ISIS he would “take off his uniform and run,” and that he was in the army “because he needs the money.”
“This, sadly, is the kind of attitude of so many of these forces who should be coming to our aid and help,” he said.
According to The Daily Mail, airstrikes over the weekend appeared to have halted ISIS militants’ advance at Ameriyat al-Falluja, a small city about 18 miles south of Fallujah and 40 miles west of Baghdad.
But most of the fighters were undaunted — and many are making their way to the suburbs of Baghdad, the Daily Mail reports.
In a Facebook posting earlier Monday, White said: “Over 1,000 Iraqi troops were killed by ISIS yesterday, things are so bad.”
“All the military airstrikes are doing nothing,” he added. “If ever we needed your prayers, it is now.”